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Daphne Merkin

Book Review: Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour

Memoir writers, not unlike Blanche DuBois, depend upon the kindness of strangers. Although such writers are often saddled with accusations of narcissism and self-indulgence, what commonly gets overlooked is the tremendous vulnerability that inheres in exposing oneself to the world’s scrutiny. The wish to tell one’s story may be stronger than the anxiety of exposure, but not by much; there is always the chance that your story will meet with a different response than the one you’re hoping for. Indeed, the violation of privacy that memoirs specialize in is as often reviled as praised. As social media has made clear, most of us go public by putting our best face forward, sharing our triumphs and achievements rather than our sorrows or failures. Memoirists, especially good ones, tend to reveal the hidden anxieties and conflicts underlying their lives, and in doing so take the risk of being judged not only on the quality of their prose but on the content of their character. In a self-promoting culture, they dare to lead with their worst side.

Cree LeFavour, in her new memoir, “Lights On, Rats Out,” exhibits a rare willingness to take the reader into difficult and sometimes unpleasant territory. LeFavour, who has written several cookbooks, here gives us a riveting account of a “particular kind of crazy” — namely, the damaged and self-damaging young woman she once was. From its very first page, we are on the dark side of the moon, where logic holds no sway and all that matters is the next “pinprick of pain-pleasure” provided by the narrator’s burning her arms with cigarettes. She is matter-of-fact about her compulsive self-mutilation, almost a tour guide, quick to explain that there are four degrees of burn, ranging from the “superficial” (comparable to an injury you might incur while baking) to the “meanie” fourth-degree variety that extends through the subcutaneous tissue, “including muscle and bone.” LeFavour tends to prefer third-degree burns, which destroy the epidermis and much of the dermis but leave the muscle and bone intact. “There’s no going halfway,” she coolly points out about playing with fire — “firsts are a joke and minor seconds aren’t my element.”

The New York Times | July 24, 201


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